August Thalheimer

Lenin as a Theoretician

Source: The Communist International, 1924, No. 1 (New Series), pp. 49-53 (1,718 words)
This issue was produced immediately after the death of Lenin and contains a number of eulogies to him. Note by transcriber—ERC
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The few remarks that I am jotting down at the request of the editors of this memorial publication [1] are not by any means claimed as a thorough treatment of the subject. Lenin’s work is so large in scope, depth and extent that it requires a much profounder way of approaching it. The work of Karl Marx, even to-day, 41 years after his death, is far from exhausted. This subject, as it was pointed out by Rosa Luxemburg upon more than one occasion, is closely interwoven with the exigencies of the proletarian class struggle at the various stages. The struggling working class always draws from theory only that which is immediately required for its class struggle. It cannot afford the luxury of studying theory for theory’s sake. Yet the degree of serviceableness of the Marxian theory in the actual practice of the class struggle depends very largely upon the width and depth of its study. Revolutionary practice draws only in piece-meal fashion upon the funds of revolutionary theory. The relationship between theory and practice is by no means unilateral, it is versatile and dialectical. The practice of the class struggle is fertilised by theory, and in its turn becomes the fruitful soil for theoretical study.

This relationship may be compared to the one that exists between “pure” science and applied. For instance, the mathematical genius of a Gauss or of a Riemann had evolved for many years in advance those mathematical methods which were to be applied later on in the physical theory of relativity. The gigantic theoretical armoury of Karl Marx furnished, first of all, the means for the political independence of the working class, for its separation from the bourgeois revolutionaries, for its independence as a class. It was only in the second place that the Marxian theory provided for the proletarian class struggle through the long period of parliamentary and economic fights and of the extensive political and economic organisation of the proletariat. The period of the final revolutionary struggle, and of the establishment of the Socialist commonwealth, was but roughly outlined.

It speaks volumes of the incomparable genius of Marx that he was able to outline the aspect of the final revolutionary struggle, and of the future commonwealth, at a period when the line between bourgeois and proletarian revolution was just begun to be drawn, when the huge development of capitalist economy and of bourgeois power was imminent while the proletarian class struggle was making its first and unsteady steps. He thus went ahead of his time, not merely by way of mental speculation, but by a profound realistic analysis of the actualities of capitalist economy and politics and of the manifestations of the proletarian mass-struggle.

Nearly all the theoretical followers of Marx, during the period of parliamentarism and trade unionism, have flattened, and consequently falsified, the teachings of Marx. They took from him that which seemed suitable for the time being. They lost view entirely of the things that Marx had to say about the proletarian revolution and its concrete forms. The Marxian revolutionary theory was turned by them into a manual for the historic interpretation of the past, and not for revolutionary action in the present.

It was here that the work of Lenin began, and it was not accidental. With the breadth of the growing Russian revolution he revived the discarded Marxian theory of the proletarian revolution, and enriched it with the mass-experiences of the proletarian class-struggle of his time. The idea of the proletarian dictatorship, “forgotten” by Kautsky, was discovered by him afresh, so to speak. For more than a score of years Lenin engaged in theoretical fights to refute the reformist and anarchist flattening and falsification of the Marxian theory. His greatest achievement in this respect was to define the concrete forms of the proletarian dictatorship in the light of the mass experiences and creative actions of the Russian proletariat, and to reveal the role of the soviets, which was connected with concrete criticism, for the overcoming of the bourgeois democracy.

In this respect Lenin was both a creative genius and a pioneer. And in this respect, his importance is universal and a guide to all those countries where the proletarian revolution is on foot.

The second great achievement of Lenin was to work out the organisation of the revolution under the conditions in Soviet Russia.

His third and latest task was to lay down the basic principles of policy for the first state of the proletarian dictatorship, for Soviet Russia.

And here we find elements of universal importance for the proletarian class-struggle. But here it will be the task of his successors to draw a critical distinction between the things that are universally applicable and the things that were peculiar to the Russian circumstances. No one has pointed out this necessity with greater emphasis than Lenin himself. To translate Lenin from the Russian into the West-European is not merely a linguistic task, nor the task of one individual. It is the fundamental task of the proletarian revolution under the circumstances of Western Europe and America. Next comes the task of adapting Leninism to the needs of Asia and Africa. The legacy of Lenin must be a further developed and concretely defined in the light of the circumstances of the proletarian revolution in Western Europe, and of the experiences of the mass-struggle in Western Europe. It is the task of a whole generation. This task will not be served by the mere adoption of Lenin’s teachings; this is just enough for a start, but further creative work is needed for their elaboration.


Both in Marx and in Lenin the practical revolutionary can hardly be detached from the theoretician. Both to Marx and to Lenin the guiding principle was not merely to expound a new interpretation of the world, but to change it. Born of revolutionary determination, and of a profound dialectical analysis of existing society, the Marxian theory became the greatest practical force known in history. “The theory becomes a force as soon as it gets the masses.” In this respect, Marx was a true disciple of Hegel, the last and greatest of German philosophers. Hegel, the idealist, was by no means a dreamer dwelling in the clouds, as it is frequently imagined. His idealistic philosophy tended towards the practical. Dialectic materialism was moulded in Marx’ hands into a mighty weapon of revolution. He got hold of the masses because he was born out of the life of the masses. The whole secret of the incomparable force of Lenin is to he found in the forcefulness of his revolutionary theory. The bourgeois mind cannot help resorting to fanciful allegations of external force used by Lenin. Lenin, like Marx, acquired his great personal power by merging his own personality in the idea of the proletarian revolution. External force was used by Lenin much less than by any bourgeois ruler.


Lenin’s particular achievement for the proletarian revolution in Russia was the erection of a bridge between the bourgeois peasant and the proletarian-socialist revolution. This problem was solved by Lenin for Russia with the greatest precision imaginable. But the importance of this solution extends far beyond the boundaries of Russia. It is equally important to Central and Western Europe as well as to America, although in those countries the specific Russian problem may not present itself in the same shape. For the peasant revolution in Russia, on close examination, is really a repetition of the peasant revolutions in France in 1789, and in the other European countries in 1848. The peculiar nature of the peasant revolution in Russia is due, firstly, to its connection with the proletarian-socialist revolution in Russia, and secondly, to its coincidence with the period of world-revolution in general. This places the Russian peasant revolution far above the peasant revolutions of the past, which were connected with bourgeois revolutions. Under the Russian circumstances, the peasant revolution served as a prelude, to the proletarian-socialist revolution. Small peasant proprietorship in Europe is considered as the preliminary stage to the proletarian revolution, whereas in Russia it was brought about by the revolution. Yet the definition of the role of the peasant revolution in regard to the proletarian revolution is of particular importance to the colonial countries with a predominant peasant population. The linking up of the proletarian movement in Europe with the national revolutions of the colonial countries is one of the most important theoretical achievements of Lenin.


Lenin’s greatness as a theoretician consists of a happy combination of revolutionary daring and the utmost realism. The eclectic opportunist is likely to be swept off his feet by the march of events, and thrown into the camp of the class enemy. The anarchist and the syndicalist will lose the ground of reality from under their feet. Lenin, the revolutionary realist, headed for the revolutionary goal through the very stress of the events. Lenin never allowed the formula of others or of his own to befog his outlook upon the realities. Still less could he be blinded by sham realities or by bourgeois phraseology. He fought relentlessly against opportunism, but equally so against “Left” digressions.


In the same sense as Lenin confessed himself to be an orthodox Marxist, we confess our faith in Leninism; in the sense of the living revolutionary theory, not in the sense of the dead letter. Leninism has become the watchword and the clarion-call of our comrades in the Russian Party. For this reason the whole of the Communist International marches under the banner of Leninism.

May we always be conscious of the truth that Leninism, like Marxism, is essentially a living creative method which combines the greatest revolutionary daring with the keenest realistic analysis.


The literary style of Lenin was “the man himself.” Of utmost simplicity and lucidity, vigorous, unconventional, wholly adapted to the purpose, no external varnish, no phraseological embellishments, truthful, sustained by strict logic and animated by revolutionary passion.

The literary and oratorical style of Lenin is somewhat perplexing to the West-European at first blush. It is the style of profound intuitiveness which hammers itself into the brain by sheer insistence and repetition, without resorting to the usual methods of rhetoric.




1.  Special edition of “Rote Fahne,” No. 38.—Translator’s Note.